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Getting the Runaround: The Shady Practice of Gym Membership Contracts

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Have you ever seen that TikTok video where a woman posed the thought-provoking question, “What’s a scam that’s become so normalized that we don’t even realize it’s a scam anymore?”

I would like to contribute to this conversation: gym membership contracts. Let’s discuss…

Last August, as an attempt to restart my fitness journey for the millionth time, I decided to visit a gym nearby to sign up for a membership. The process was straightforward: I toured the facility, had a fitness consultation with one of the managers, and signed up for a six-month contracted personal training membership.

This was the first time that I’d ever signed a dotted line to join a gym — and I was always skeptical of doing so — however, based upon how the membership contract was explained, I assumed it would be a simple procedure and a commitment I could easily leave IF I wanted to once that contract was up.

I’d ended up pressing pause on my fitness journey after three months of joining, but I was still getting charged for the monthly package due to the contract. Six months rolled around, and I was ready to cancel my membership.

I was told that, in order to cancel my membership, all I would have to do is follow a simple, 3-step process:

  1. Come to the gym during office hours (9 am-5 pm)

  2. Ask to speak to the manager

  3. Tell them I wanted to cancel…and boom, I was done!

That did not happen at all.

Rather than having an easy and straightforward cancellation process, I ended up getting the runaround for another six months. When I first asked to cancel, the manager drilled me down with questions regarding my decision and ended up convincing me to freeze my account for three months instead.

After the membership freeze was finished — and I still wanted to cancel my gym membership — I was avoided like the plague. The manager would dodge my calls and stall whenever I would visit. In addition to the sketchy behavior, I’d noticed that the gym charged random amounts to my card for no reason. I was supposed to pay $164/month but, for some months, I’d ended up paying more than that. I read through my contract and nothing was able to explain those spontaneous charges.

Fast forward to August 2022, I managed to finally speak with the manager and get my membership canceled. I was told that, prior to the official cancellation, I would still have to pay the personal training fee for another 60 days (which was outlined in the contract). I paid that amount in full. I’d received my official membership document email from the gym, and I thought I was good to go!

It wasn’t until the following month that my card was charged again. I called the gym, the shady behavior of dodging my calls continued, and finally- after a week of consistent calling- I was told that I would receive a refund. Two weeks later, I was charged again AND didn’t receive my refund. I asked the gym to remove my card and was told they would have to charge $20 to provide that service.

To put an end to this never-ending cycle, I called my bank, disputed the fee charges (including the random ones from months ago), and blocked the gym from my account to finally cancel my membership, once and for all. Sometimes the best way to get the gym’s attention is by leveraging action with your bank. It seemed to be the only way I could end this absolute mess.

Needless to say: I’ll never sign up for another gym membership contract ever again.

This experience was truly awful. At first, I thought this was just an isolated incident — until I came across a sea of negative reviews on the gym’s Yelp and Google Business accounts, all complaining about the same issue.

To make matters worse: My gym is not the only one that makes membership contracts hard to cancel. This is actually a common practice.

Gyms are notorious for their unethical member retention practices, and it’s time for this industry to be called out.